'Putin and Netanyahu Are Betting on the Trump Horse'

Alain Frachon / Le Monde
'Putin and Netanyahu Are Betting on the Trump Horse' Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo: AFP)

World affairs must be watched keeping in mind that Donald Trump could return to the White House, writes Le Monde columnist Alain Frachon.

While they may not dare to believe just yet, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are pinning their hopes on a surprise. On November 5, 2024, at the end of the US presidential election, they hope to celebrate the victory of Donald Trump. The two leaders know all too well who they would vote for, if they could.

The perspective of a second Trump administration is also the yardstick with which to measure international news and developments. The singularity of today's crises – and part of their drama – lies in the possibility of a radically different American foreign policy for the future. The return of the apprentice Republican coup leader to the White House would have a major impact on the two wars currently underway. The fighting between Russia and Ukraine would be affected, as would Israel's campaign against the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.

The Russian president has a friend in Trump, a thwarted autocrat. Openly jealous, the Florida golfer has already expressed his admiration for Putin's kind of leadership. Separately, at the head of a right-wing majority, the Israeli prime minister is betting on Trump, who from 2016 to 2020 was the most anti-Palestinian president ever to occupy the White House.

Carte blanche to annex the West Bank

The Gaza war will last a year or more, according to Israeli sources cited by the Financial Times on December 1, 2023. Joe Biden is hoping to contain Netanyahu's ambitions. According to Michel Duclos' latest analysis for the Institut Montaigne, the US president intends to force limits on the Israeli army. The US has stated that subjecting southern Gaza to bombardments like those that ravaged the north and Gaza City, driving those in Gaza into Egypt, or Israel reoccupying the strip for any length of time are all out of the question.

After an interim phase, the Biden administration has put forward the scenario of a restored Palestinian Authority (under Fatah) in charge of administering the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah would only agree to this on the condition of the resumption of negotiations leading – one day – to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. On each of these points of the official US position, Biden has found himself at loggerheads with Netanyahu.

The US president is putting his credibility at stake in the Arab world, where he is strongly criticized for his unconditional support for Israel's bombardment of Gaza. But it is also a matter of domestic politics with the US election so close. Weak in the polls largely due to his age, the Democratic candidate needs to project the image of a strong president abroad. Whether he will be a president capable of coercing Israel or bringing the hostages home remains to be seen.

Netanyahu's domestic unpopularity has reached abysmal depths, with over 80% of Israelis dissatisfied. As long as the fighting continues, he is safe from a commission of inquiry into his responsibility for the October 7 tragedy. Yet the Israeli president could still emerge from the current situation as the one to have defeated Hamas, once again outmaneuvering those who thought him finished. With Trump in the White House, the right-wing and far-right majority now ruling Israel would have carte blanche to annex the West Bank or at minimum continue colonization efforts as before.

Trump is still favored by a large majority of Republican voters, with just a few weeks to go before the opening of the primaries. The only uncertain factor remains the impact on his supporters of a possible conviction in one of the criminal cases against the former president.

The master of deal-making

By contrast, there is no uncertainty about Trump's policy on the conflict in Ukraine if he returns to the White House. His affection for Putin would dictate his steps and the country's isolationist mood will play its part. Trump's ignorance or indifference to the stakes – respect for national borders in particular – would weigh in. Military aid to Kyiv, which represents 0.33% of the US domestic product, would probably end if he became president once again.

Trump explained it would take him 48 hours to reach an agreement between the two men he has said he "knows well," Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky. The latter will simply exchange peace for the territorial concessions requested by the former, an easy task after all if one entrusts the negotiations to the master of the art of the deal himself.

Russia has geared up for a long-term battle with its wartime economy, flexible mobilization, support from a variety of countries and numerous customers for its hydrocarbons. "Russia has amassed a large missile stockpile ahead of winter," the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) warned this week, "We see new attempts to strike Ukraine's power grid and energy infrastructure, trying to leave Ukraine in the dark and cold."

Along a front line that has hardly moved, Kyiv is short of ammunition, anti-aircraft defenses, the promised and long-awaited F-16 fighter jets and mine-clearing equipment. The war in Gaza has put a strain on supplies from the US. Moscow is said to have mobilized $112 billion for its offensive in 2024. By contrast, Biden struggled to obtain $60 billion for Ukraine from Congress.

The two conflicts persist against the ominous backdrop of a possible return of Make America Great Again (MAGA) diplomacy.

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